After defeating the united Opposition sponsored ‘no confidence motion’ on the floor of the Lok Sabha with more than comfortable margin, now the Bharatiya Janata Party led NDA managed to win the post of Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha and proved that its sway continues in both Houses of the Parliament. This has come as a much-needed confidence in the BJP camp with the big 2019 election just eight months away. Prime Minister Narendra Modi worked the phone to win over Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik — his nine MPs — for the big test in the Rajya Sabha. The “united Opposition” was exposed as a shabby group once again — the NDA’s candidate, Harivansh Narayan Singh, who is a parliamentarian from the party of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, won the election.
The BJP win in both Lok Sabha and later in Rajya Sabha amply proved that Opposition in parliament is a vivid depiction of the gang that could not shoot straight. After his show-stopping hug of Modi a few weeks ago, Congress president Rahul Gandhi appears to have reverted to ho-hum mode. He chose the lackluster BK Hariprasad as the Opposition candidate at the last minute. And for all, Gandhi’s talk of being willing to move the Congress to the backseat if that’s what it will take to win over parties that don’t like it, he did the opposite. If the Congress strategists possessed some political smarts, they could have reached out to Naveen Patnaik and offered support to a BJD candidate. This would have cemented a new alliance and robbed other Opposition parties of excuses of not voting for a Congress candidate.
Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao expected a call from Rahul seeking his support — that never happened. That may be a fig leaf given that KCR is showing every sign of siding with Modi in general. But Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal also cited the silence from Gandhi as the reason for his three Aam Aadmi MPs abstaining. All this means that the NDA candidate needed far fewer votes to win.
Rahul’s current reluctance to engage with leaders like Kejriwal will hurt his own party’s place in the anti-Modi alliance as other leaders in this group, including Mamata Banerjee, will simply not accept the cold-shouldering. The reality is that AAP is here to stay and the seven Delhi Lok Sabha seats will have to be divvied up to allocate some to Team Kejriwal, whether the Congress likes it or not. On the other hand, Shah has realised that the BJP is not in an unassailable position in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar; and is being most reasonable with Nitish Kumar, whom he had treated shabbily earlier. Nitish was also upset that after joining the NDA, he had not been given a single union ministry. His party man as deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha was meant to correct hurt feelings.
The BJP-supported Harivansh Singh, who was elected in his earlier avatar as a newspaper editor where he had been hugely critical of Modi in his writings. But when Nitish proposed his name, the BJP accepted it, proving again that it will do everything required to win an election. Against this, the Opposition’s occasional flashes of revival could be the definitive factor of the upcoming battle of 2019. Shah has radically softened his manner and behaviour towards angry allies like the Shiv Sena and Akali Dal. Both voted with the BJP. Clearly, the trips to meet Uddhav Thackeray in Matoshri by Shah served as balm. While a clueless media speculated on Naresh Gujral of the Akali Dal being the NDA candidate, Shah and Modi were clear that in general election season, they would pick their candidate from a heartland ally rather than non-Hindi states like Punjab or Telangana. Considering that Vice President Venkayah Naidu is from the South, Modi-Shah preferred a north Indian as his deputy.
Former Jammu-Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti chose to abstain after initially indicating that she would support the Opposition. When every vote counts, Congress leaders are bewildered at why Mufti was not snapped up by the Opposition. Meanwhile, the BJP ensured it delivered every vote with Arun Jaitley appearing in public for the first time after his kidney transplant to cast his vote.
Big picture for 2019?
Should we then take this as the big picture for 2019? Is it sidelining of the Congress to prevent it from doing more damage? Serious Opposition players like Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party and Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party have already worked out a seat-share. The only one not invited to the party is the Rahul-led Congress. Akhilesh has publicly been politely dismissive of the Congress. Mayawati, arguably the toughest bargainer in Indian politics, is currently making Kamal Nath, the Congress chief in Madhya Pradesh and interlocutor in her negotiations with the Congress, miserable with her demands that an alliance in UP will only happen as part of a package deal with Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. Rahul does not want to concede an inch of political space like in Delhi, but has no choice. SP is fully backing Mayawati on her demands.
So, as the monsoon session of the Parliament wound up on Friday, the BJP emerged as the strongest player in Indian polity. This is quite significant as the big extravaganza of 2019 Lok Sabha polls is just a few months away and the final lap has begun.
Bharatkumar Raut is a political analyst and former Member of Parliament (RS).